I Achieved My Cure of Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia:
An Open Letter to Those on the Healing Path
by Neal Sideman
In this letter, I have chosen to focus on my healing, and to say only a few words about my long period of suffering. Chances are, you already know – firsthand or secondhand – more than you'd care to know about the suffering! My own suffering had its unique form, but essentially, it was no different from what you probably already know.
After my first two panic attacks, I awakened each morning to an instantly racing heart, hyperventilation, and cresting waves of fear and apprehension. My range of activity for each day was dictated by my agoraphobia, and my range gradually got narrower and narrower.
Every aspect of my life was deeply affected. Once, a friend asked me to explain what things I couldn't do. I answered that it would take much less time if I simply listed those things I could do.
At my low point, I was buffeted from morning to night by waves of panic anxiety, and I was barely able to venture one block from my apartment.
To summarize a story that could fill many pages, I spent years doing everything I could to heal from this condition. After many disappointments, my tenacity finally paid off. I found my answer.
The answer I found was the deeply transformational process of learning mastery over my panic and anxiety.
For me, there were two keys to learning
this mastery and curing this condition:
education and practice.
Learn in depth about panic and panic disorder/agoraphobia, and you have taken a huge step towards achieving your cure.
We grow up in a culture which teaches us next to nothing about what the panic response really is. No wonder we feel overwhelmed when we experience it first-hand!
Panic – also known as "fight or flight" – is a physiological response for which everybody is "wired" – it has been essential to our survival as a species. Through millions of years of evolution, our bodies were built to easily tolerate the panic response – it is completely harmless to the body and the mind.
A good analogy for the panic response is a fire alarm: its purpose is to insure our protection and survival in the event of an actual fire. It's loud and unpleasant, but the fire alarm itself is never dangerous.
Similarly, the purpose of the panic response is to insure our protection and survival in the event of a real emergency, when a split-second response could mean the difference between life and death. But the panic response itself is never dangerous.
Fear of panic is at the root of panic disorder. As one really begins to learn that no part of the panic response is ever harmful or dangerous, the fear of panic begins to subside. One is held less and less "in the thrall" of the panic experience.
In his wonderful book Fighting Fear (1985), Dr. Fredric Neuman explains:
"If human beings were immobilized or fell apart physically in the face of overwhelming fear, the race would have died out long ago. Can you imagine a caveman responding to a saber-toothed tiger by falling to the ground with a heart attack or running around out of control? ....you must discover the truth for yourself. When you see finally that the panic attack is not inherently dangerous, you will have achieved the principal goal of treatment."
Many other books include excellent explanations of the nature of panic and panic disorder. Among them are:
Mastery of Your Anxiety and Panic: Workbook
(2006) by David Barlow and Michelle Craske (see
especially chapters 1, 3 and 4);
If you are on the healing path yourself, I urge you to take your time to study this material – the concepts may take a while to really 'sink in'. If reading this material is a trigger for anxiety for you, I beg you to persevere, a little at a time, because understanding and de-mystifying panic is an essential first step. It could be the best 'study time' you've spent in your whole life!
Copyright © 2010, Triumph Over Panic, Inc. All rights reserved.
Triumph Over Panic, Inc. is affiliated with the Agoraphobia and Panic Disorder Foundation.